Harriers on Okinawa returning to air after crash grounded jets
October 5, 2016
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Marine Corps will resume AV-8B Harrier flights from Okinawa, two weeks after one of the jets inexplicably crashed off the island prefecture’s eastern seaboard.
An initial review of the crash and safety inspections determined the aircraft pose no threat to the local population, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, III Marine Expeditionary Force commander, announced Wednesday. He declined to provide further details on the cause of the Sept. 22 crash because it is still under investigation.
The Harrier flights will resume Friday.
“Preliminary reports from ongoing investigations do not identify the incident’s cause as systemic in the aircraft, aircrew or maintenance,” Nicholson said. “A thorough review of command culture, aircrew, maintenance, and material readiness have determined that VMA-542 (Marine Attack Squadron 542) is ready and prepared to resume flight operations.”
Nicholson added that Harrier jets have continued to operate safely around the globe since the mishap, and that he would make the same decision at any other Marine base that hosts the aircraft.
Nicholson said the Marine Corps is confident it knows the issue that led to the crash; however, it cannot release the findings until the investigation is finished.
Crash reports can takes months to upward of a year to complete, Marine spokesman Lt. Joseph Butterfield said. The decision has not yet been made on whether to attempt to salvage the crashed aircraft, which lies in the sea, approximately 115 nautical miles east of Okinawa.
The Harrier, assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, had left Kadena Air Base on air combat maneuver training. The pilot experienced trouble and ejected safely prior to impact and was rescued by the Air Force’s 33rd Rescue Squadron, aided by the Japan Coast Guard.
The pilot suffered only minor injuries and has returned to his unit, Nicholson said.
“The safety of our community is a priority, and we will continue to conduct pre-flight inspections, pilot inspections, and post-flight inspections every time we fly,” he said. “While we cannot discuss the details of ongoing investigations, we are confident and in concurrence with our senior leadership in Hawaii and Washington, that we are able to safely return to normal flight operations.”